Swollen Taste Bud Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

  • Jess Herbert Masters of Cognitive Neuroscience - MSc, University College London, UK
  • Sichen Yin Msc, in Clinical Neuropsychiatry, King’s College London


A taste bud is a type of cell that enables you to perceive tastes in the food and drinks you consume. As a brief overview, taste buds are papillae - essentially sensory receptors - located on the surface of the tongue. We have thousands of these tiny sensory organs, and they respond to the five basic tastes and transmit this information to the central nervous system.1

Sometimes these cells can become inflamed, causing a swollen taste bud. This occurs when the cell is irritated and expands. 



  • Pain and sensitivity, particularly when eating or drinking, is a telltale sign of swelling and a symptom to look out for.
  • As well as sensitivity, an altered taste perception can indicate inflammation in the tastebuds and could be a sign you should get an examination.  


There are a couple of ways you can determine whether you have swollen taste buds, and signs to look out for.

  • Using a mirror, it is possible to do a self visual oral examination - simply look into the mouth for any enlarged or more prominent bumps on the tongue. They may be red or white. Swollen buds are most commonly observed towards the back of the tongue, nearer the throat, but they can appear anywhere on the tongue surface.
  • Alternatively, a doctor or GP can carry out a similar visual examination at a routine appointment.

Should I be concerned about swollen taste buds?

Generally, swollen taste buds are not harmful and will resolve on their own with a little time. They are a common health complaint, with estimates that over 50% of people will experience them at some point.2.  Typically, buds that have remained persistently swollen for 2-4 weeks will require further investigation by a physician, as this could be a sign of a deeper issue such as infection or another underlying condition that requires treatment.3 

What can cause swollen taste buds?

There are several causes of swollen taste buds, such as: 

An infection - bacterial or viral

Infections are a common cause of swollen taste buds, and typically these will resolve within a few days. If you are still experiencing symptoms after a week or so, seek advice from a practitioner.

Poor oral hygiene

Poor oral hygiene can lead to the overgrowth of bad bacteria and viruses, which can cause infection of the taste buds. To avoid this it is important to practise good oral hygiene routines on a daily basis. This could include brushing twice daily, flossing daily, and using mouth rinses.

Chronic acid reflux

Acid reflux is when acid comes up from the stomach and into the oesophagus. This can be a result of a chronic condition like GERD or another digestive issue. If the acid makes its way into the mouth it can damage taste buds, making them inflamed and swollen. 


Allergies are the body’s reaction to various irritant substances, such as foods, chemicals or drugs, and depending on their severity they can cause a reaction on the taste buds resulting in swelling. 

Deficiencies in key vitamins

Deficiency is the lack of appropriate levels of vitamins and minerals, and can result in swelling of the taste buds. 


Chronic smoking habits can introduce chemicals into the mouth, resulting in irritation of the mouth tissues and tastebuds.

Mouth burns

If you eat or drink something too hot, it can result in burns. These burns can blister and cause swelling at the site. 

Oral cancer

On rare occasions, persistent swelling of tongue tissues could be a sign of mouth cancer. Specifically, a single noticeable lump that is uncomfortable and increasing in size may be a sign of cancer, and should be investigated immediately. 

Treating swollen taste buds

Home treatments

  • Salt-water rinses.

Rinsing your mouth with a small glass of warm water mixed with a teaspoon of salt twice a day may help with symptoms. 

  • Ice therapy

Taking an ice cube into the mouth and holding it against any inflamed areas may reduce swelling and irritation. 

Preventative measures

  • Eating bland foods - as spicy foods can cause irritation in the mouth, it may be helpful to avoid any spicy foods until symptoms have subsided. 
  • Quit smoking - as smoking can damage mouth and tongue tissues, quitting is likely to improve the swelling of the tastebuds. 
  • Practise good oral hygiene - visiting your dentist regularly and practising daily flossing and brushing habits may prevent pain and swelling in the mouth.
  • Addressing any nutrient deficiencies - working with a practitioner to determine any deficiencies will enable you to address these. 


While uncomfortable, usually swollen taste buds will go away naturally with time3. However, if symptoms like pain and irritation or swollen taste buds are still present after two weeks, schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider. They can help determine what they are and whether they’re associated with any underlying conditions that may be causing the inflammation and give an appropriate treatment.

You should also schedule an appointment if you have pain or discomfort that keeps you from eating or your normal routines.


  • Gravina SA, Yep GL, Khan M. Human biology of taste. Ann Saudi Med [Internet]. 2013 [cited 2023 Oct 26];33(3):217–22. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6078535/
  • Cleveland Clinic [Internet]. [cited 2023 Oct 26]. Swollen taste bud: causes, symptoms & treatments. Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/24544-swollen-taste-bud
  • Author G. Pacific Neuroscience Institute. 2020 [cited 2023 Oct 26]. Swollen taste buds: causes, symptoms and treatments. Available from: https://www.pacificneuroscienceinstitute.org/blog/throat-mouth/what-causes-swollen-taste-buds
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Jess Herbert

Masters of Cognitive Neuroscience - MSc, University College London, UK

Jess is an accomplished cognitive neuroscientist researcher and medical writer with a strong background in business with several years corporate experience in data-focused roles. She has a Master's degree in cognitive neuroscience from the renowned University College London, where she studied from 2022-2023. During her time there she contributed to research in the speech communication lab and also gained skills in science writing and communications. She continues to develop her skills while pursuing a career in the cognitive sciences and communications.

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